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"Write What you Know"?

dglasser's picture

I took to heart one specific line in the Stallybrass piece, "The cure for the disease called thinking is work." I'm a creative writing junkie, and I took Short Fiction II last semester with Karen Russell who said, that the worst piece of writing advice she ever received was to, "write what you know." Writing only about your experiences is a hindrance. After all, even if you've never worked on a farm, can't you imagine what it would be like? Limiting yourself in this way is a "disease", one that can be cured, as Stallybrass suggests, by work. Thinking, and over thinking, and then rethinking your over thinking just to make sure your work is based justly, isn't beneficial to anyone. Just write. Just work. Let horrible prose or hypotheses or whatever be written. It's better to write junk than nothing. 

Also, this links in my mind to an issue people often talk about, the issue being, that because the internet is so accessible, everyone and anyone can be a blogger or call themselves a writer. Does that demean the institution of writing? Do academic credentials even matter? I'm not sure, but again, Stallybrass' quote is relevant. Just write. Even if a person writes horribly. Work, even horrible blogs, can become a piece of a database, a forever growing linkage of material, and even if that work is frankly, just ridiculous, maybe that ridiculousness will spark someone to dive deeper into the subject, in a less ridiculous way and produce something utterly fantastic! I think, what Stallybrass is suggesting, and I agree, is that inspiration can be found anywhere, so don't deprive the world of your work, even your most subpar prose.

On another topic entirely, my mind is moving annoyingly fast at the moment, I'm still caught up on the formatting of the Letham article. It still bugs me and I'm trying to figure out why. I think because, in my mind it reads like a knock-knock joke: There's the set up, then the pun. His reveal at the end reads like a pun to me, and I feel he's  showing off his own "cleverness" instead of the subject matter he is expressing, and it reminds me of a Cheever story in The New Yorker I was once assigned to read. The entire short story was a play on words. It was entitled, "Reunion" and the first sentence was, "The last time I saw my father was in Grand Central Station." Is this the last time ever, or the most recent time? The reader doesn’t know, and that's the point. It's very clever, but it's more about that cleverness than the story itself. And, because Lethem's topic is more serious and poignant, I find that cleverness to be misplaced and a bit arrogant, despite the fact that I agree with his definition of plagiarism and how it should be viewed. He makes me want to push back. I personally don't feel that having "the reveal" at the start of the article would hinder it, it would make me want to read it more, to see how he will pull it off. Like how a magician at the beginning of an act will say, “I am going to back this woman disappear.”

But then again, that's just me:)